Thursday, December 10, 2015

Banana republics are better than franchised cities

Chuck Strouse, writing in the Broward-Palm Beach New Times yesterday, takes note of a country commisioners' vote in Broward that would have the county "give" the Florida Panthers some $86 million across the next six years. I say "give" because the money would actually come from tourism taxes, always an easy thing for county commissioners to fuck with because who really cares, right? The Panthers lose money every year as a matter of course these days. Their average attendance is among the worst in the league, and they are—along with the county—still paying off the BB&T Center. If the team were to fold, the county would be on the hook for this bill, alone. Thus, commissioners opted to subsidize the team some more (it's already received over $340 million from Broward County coffers).

Anyway, Strouse suggests that ultimately this unfortunate (ridiculous) situation should be laid at the feet of H. Wayne Huizenga, the man who bought the Dolphins in 1993, then immediately brought professional baseball and hockey to South Florida in the form of the Florida Marlins and Panthers. I'm not exactly clear on Strouse's reasoning here, but it seems to be that Huizenga started this mess and therefore should probably own it.

I guess that's fair, in a big picture sort of way. But it seems to me there is a larger cadre of villains in this story, indeed in a much larger story that encompasses all of the major sports in South Florida. Who are these villains? Why, they're the people of Broward County, of course.

Check this: the Miami Dolphins were a perennial winning team in the NFL when they played at the Orange Bowl. From 1970 (when they entered the NFL) until 1996 (the last year at the Orange Bowl), they suffered exactly two losing seasons, in 1976 and 1988. Since the move north to whatever-the-hell-the stadium-is-called-now? Seven losing seasons (soon to be eight) in nine fewer years. The Florida Panthers? They moved north to the BB&T center in 1998. Since then, they've made the playoffs just twice (and this is hockey, where everyone makes the playoffs). In their five seasons at the Miami Arena? Two trips there as well, including their run to the Stanley Cup finals. That's two in five compared to two in eighteen. Hmm...

Okay true, the Marlins made hay playing at the Dolphins' stadium. Well, they did until the Lorias came to town. Then it all went quickly to shit (after a World Series win set up prior to the Loria acquisition). They've now been playing at Marlins Park in Miami (where the Orange Bowl once stood) for only four years. The jury is still out there, I'll grant.

Then there is the Miami Heat.

Enough said.

The evidence here suggests what I and other Miamians have known all along: Broward County sucks the life out of everything it touches, especially sports teams. Not convinced? Well here's one more: the University of Miami Hurricanes. At the Orange Bowl, the Hurricanes amassed five national championships and nine conference championships. Since they moved north to the Dolphins' stadium in 2007? Goose eggs. Goose. Eggs.

Now, someone might point out that Sun Life Stadium (the current name of the Dolphins' stadium; I still call it Joe Robbie) is technically in Miami-Dade County. And this is true. But it's right on the border and is far more accessible to people from Broward than it is to people from Miami-Dade. Indeed, this is exactly why the location was chosen, as a means to supposedly tap into the supposedly huge base of supposedly huge sports fans in Broward (and in Palm Beach County). Back in the day, this point of view was all the rage. It's what led to the Panthers being exiled to Sunrise, the idea that all the real hockey fans lived up there. Miami, according to this line of thinking, was populated wholly by Cubans, African-Americans, and Rednecks, none of whom cared a whit about hockey or even football really, at least not in comparison to the people in Broward County. Yeah, right.

Hurricane Andrew played a small role here, it should be noted, as in its aftermath there was a bit of an exodus from South Dade to, mostly, West Broward (Mirimar, Sunrise, Weston, etc.). My take on that? Good riddance. Traffic was and still is bad enough down here.

Of course, it's even worse in Broward. And at least in Miami-Dade, people are actually going somewhere, to real destinations in a real city. Where are they going in Broward? To one of forty-seven Olive Gardens?

And that's the thing: Miami and Miami-Dade County have character, have culture. Sure, we're more corrupt down here than any place in North America (and most of the rest of the Americas), but we look good, we have fun. Those cardboard cut-outs up north? Come on. Every neighborhood looks the same, every house, too. And they're all bordered by identical strip-malls that feature the same shops and restaurants, over and over again.

And those cut-outs, they are the ones who really deserve the blame for the failure of the Panthers. Huizenga's problem was that he believed in them, believed in Broward County. Big mistake. Huge mistake. Look, I know there are plenty of good people in Broward, plenty of real sports fans, but the fact of the matter is that Miami is where the action is in South Florida. Always has been, always will be. It's where business gets done and where people are willing to go. The biggest mistake the Panthers, Dolphins, and Hurricanes ever made was moving north. Broward County is on the hook now for millions and millions of dollars, but that's Broward County's fault (via its commissioners, and therefore its voting public) for believing its own hype.

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